Blog U › 
  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

A list on the road to Damascus
May 27, 2008 - 3:22pm

Over the three-day weekend, I managed to do a little reading. One of the magazines that I actually pay money to receive (as opposed to all the campus-administration-related rags I get at the office for free) is NewScientist. It's not "new" in the sense of "new age", the magazine's on volume 198. (Of course, it's published in the UK, and it's newer than the New Forest, so I guess everything's relative.)

Anyway, the May 24 issue (no. 2657) contains an interview with Dr. Hermann Scheer, a prominent voice of the green movement in Germany and a member of the Bundestag (German parliament). Scheer is behind such initiatives as putting solar panels on 100,000 German roofs. He's a pragmatist, but also a visionary. Interesting guy.

I spent an hour and a quarter watching a YouTube video of an address he gave to the MIT Club of Northern California. During that period of time, I came to a couple of realizations, one of them a significant (at least, on my personal scale) epiphany. I haven't thought that one through fully yet, so it's going to have to wait a few days for publication. What I'm comfortable sharing now, though, is the realization that there isn't an energy-related sustainability crisis -- there are a bunch of energy-related sustainability crises. By focusing almost exclusively on the first one, I've (unknowingly) been limiting my effectiveness at Greenback.

In no particular order, these include:

  1. The climate crisis, as described in "An Inconvenient Truth", "The Eleventh Hour", and other such.
  2. A crisis of energy availability, often summed up in the term "peak oil". Whether we're talking petroleum, uranium, natural gas, even (eventually) coal, it's a finite resource that we're consuming at an accelerating rate. It's getting harder (thus, more expensive) to extract, and it's not going to last forever.
  3. A crisis of affordability in developing and "third world" countries. Many of them are importing oil that costs more than the total value of their exports -- hardly a sustainable situation (and one that's gotten far worse, I'm sure, in the year since the presentation was given).
  4. A crisis of nuclear proliferation. More countries (and less stable countries) are moving in the direction of nuclear power, which increases the risks of both weapons proliferation and accidental contamination (not to mention the statistical likelihood of nuke-plant-as-IED disaster).
  5. A crisis of water consumption. Power plant cooling/steam generation is already responsible for half of water consumption in the US (and the US has ample fresh water resources, compared to most parts of the world). Water's likely to be the new oil (if it isn't already), and needs to be consumed more responsibly.
  6. A health crisis, fueled in large part by pollution in various forms.
  7. An agricultural crisis, in that the fertile soil layer (topsoil, humus, whatever you want to call it) is being degraded far faster than it can be replaced, and food production is requiring higher and higher inputs of both energy and petrochemicals (see #2, above).
  8. An economic crisis, in that our current energy system (writ large) is effecting a huge transfer of wealth from the many (who can't afford it) to the few (who don't really need it). Juxtapose $4.00 gasoline with the image of energy executives testifying on Capitol Hill that they don't believe smoking causes cancer (oops, I mean ...).
  9. A global security crisis, in that our energy supplies lines/infrastructure are extended and exposed, necessitating huge military expenditures (both the active ones that make the news and the passive ones which don't).

I'm sure that this list is incomplete. My main point is that the number of items on it far exceeds one. There's a common causality involved, and having many and varied symptomatic crises lets us talk to people with a wide range of priorities and values. We don't always have to be tree-huggers; we can put on a fiscally conservative face and still tell the truth.

In total, the list of crises reminds me of nothing more than a song Jerilyn Steele has sung a couple of times on A Prairie Home Companion (including in the movie):

The day's so short, and the night's so long.
Why do you work so hard, to get what you don't even want?


Please review our commenting policy here.


  • Viewed
  • Commented
  • Past:
  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year
Back to Top